Union Steamboat Captured/Site of Front Street

Historical Marker # 1935 in Lewisport (Hancock County) commemorates the December 1864 capture of a Union mail packet steamboat at this Ohio River town by Confederate guerrillas.

A sharp rise in pro-Confederate guerrilla activity in Kentucky accompanied the changed war aims of the Lincoln administration. When the Emancipation Proclamation took effect in January 1863, and later, when the recruitment of black soldiers began in earnest in the late spring of 1864, many white Kentuckians who had previously stayed out of the war joined local bands of marauders to protest these measures. These race issues, combined with a degree of corruption and perceived hard war measures exacted on Kentucky citizens, further divided the state, which was already strained in its allegiances.

One guerrilla band was led by William H. Davison. Davison had actually been the captain of Company B, 17th Kentucky (Union) Infantry Regiment and had served at Fort Donelson and Shiloh before resigning his commission on February 13, 1863. Davison cited the reason for his resignation as being that he was passed for a promotion in favor of a junior officer. However, Davison's commanding officer, Col. A. M. Stout, stated that the possibility of a court marshal trial for several offenses was the true reason. Another source claimed that Davison would not continue to fight to free slaves. Davison's resignation date being so close to the Emancipation Proclamation would seem to corroborate the last contention.

Davison returned to Hancock County and recruited a band of guerrillas in 1864. He was captured in August and imprisoned in Louisville but escaped and returned to Hancock County. There, he raised another gang of guerrillas named Davison's Hyenas. Davison's career included riding with notable marauders such as Marcellus Jerome Clarke (aka Sue Mundy) and Henry Magruder.

On December 23, 1864, Davison's Hyenas attacked the steamboat "Morning Star" at the Lewisport landing. The steamboat's passengers were robbed of their valuables. One discharged Union soldier was shot on deck by Davison and two others forced into the water. One of the soldiers drowned due to previous injuries and the other apparently made an escape.

One newspaper account called Davison "one of the most corrupt scoundrels unhung." It suggested that "if ever caught, we trust that he will not be permitted to see the inside of a prison again. We have no use for such desperadoes, and the world can well afford to be rid of him, no matter how."

In January 1865, Davison and his men continued their reign of terror by burning the Daviess County courthouse at Owensboro. However, in the end, Davison met the fate of so many other guerrillas. In February 1865, while pursuing a Union home guardsman, he was shot and wounded. Davison died from his wounds on March 7, 1865, and was secretly buried. His remains were later moved to the Hawesville Cemetery.